Barnes and Noble: best nonfiction of 2010

December 17, 2010 • 7:11 pm

I’m a sucker for “best book” lists, but Barnes and Noble usually has pretty good judgement with theirs.  Here’s their list and summary of the ten best nonfiction books of the year, and for sure I’ll be reading most of these.

I’m especially keen on Isabel Wilkerson’s book on the great migration of American blacks to the north beginning around 1910,  The Warmth of Other Suns, which I highlighted here in September and will soon be getting from the U of C library (I’ve run out of shelf space for my own books). From the buzz, I predict that Wilkerson will nab this year’s Pulitzer for nonfiction.

Bomber Country, by Daniel Swift, also looks intriguing; Anthony Grayling commended it with “Of all the books about war that I have read—all war, not just the bombing war—this is among the most moving and telling.”

I’ve read part of Travels in Siberia, by Ian Frazier, which was semi-serialized in The New Yorker, and was very good; and I was interested to see that Lauren Hillebrand, who came out of nowhere with her super-best-seller Seabiscuit, has a new book, Unbroken, about two GIs surviving on a raft during WWII.

If you’ve read any of these, weigh in (or recommend your own single best book of 2010).  Of the nonfiction I’ve read this year, I guess I’d recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. I reviewed it for B&N last February. It’s a fantastic interweaving of science and the history of a poor black family, one of whose members was the source of HeLa cells.

Their ten top fiction choices are here.

24 thoughts on “Barnes and Noble: best nonfiction of 2010

  1. I’m a bit disappointed that B&N seem to fall behind on getting non-fiction into epub format for their Nook (though I am enjoying the Nook itself far more that I thought I would). Hopefully they’ll be catching up here soon. They really seem to be pushing the e-readers as gifts this year.

  2. I, too, enjoyed “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”. I collected materials for some years with the aim of writing a SF story on the HeLa cell line and its takeover of the world. I am so glad that I never wrote my book as the story told in this book is so compelling and humane. Aside from the interesting scientific issues associated with the HeLa cell line, this book compels us to think about the human tragedies involved.

    1. That’s the one I’d like to get my hands on–I’ve been interested in her story since I listened to RadioLab’s podcast ‘Famous Tumors’, the third segment of which is about Henrietta. *Fascinating* podcast–so I can’t wait to read more about her and the HeLa cell line.

  3. I snapped up The Warmth of Other Suns right after I read about it here. Although I have stacks of unread books I think I’m going to jump the line and start reading it around the new year.

    I watched To Kill a Mockingbird last weekend and it got me thinking about the book (TWOOS) again…the movie is, I think in some ways, kind of a snapshot of a world or society in the midst of change.

  4. As it happens, I’m reading Grayling’s Among the Dead Cities at present, about the moral dimensions of the bombing of the Axis cities in WWII. Quite impressive so far (first 100 pages.)

    I had always suspected Bomber Harris was a war criminal, but wondered if that was merely a prejudice based on pretty sketchy reading. So far, it looks as if my prejudice may have been right, but I’ll wait to see how Grayling sums it up.

    1. My dad didn’t fly but was in a Halifax squadron in Yorkshire in 1942 after he was called up. He felt great sadness at the thought of the friends & colleagues he lost. “For it is evil things that we shall be fighting against – brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution – and against them I am certain that right will prevail.”

  5. I’m halfway through “The Emperor of All Maladies” and it’s splendid. Chilling, heartbreaking and maddening but riveting.

    It’s reminiscent of Sean B. Carroll’s “Remarkable Creatures” in that the science of cancer research and treatment is nicely interwoven with portraits of prominent figures in the struggle to cope with a hydra-headed disease.

    Highly recommended.

  6. Bomber country and travels in siberia (because I read all the NYer installments) are on my xmas list.

    Btw., your reading list here looks a lot like books reviewed at the New Yorker

  7. A book I have ordered is Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley, professor of biology at Cornell: it is about how bees, collectively, make complex and good decisions… perhaps as the neurons do, collectively, in our brains. It was recommended by the London Review of Books, and since bees and wasps, social and solitary, have fascinated me since childhood, I went ahead… and am looking foward to reading it.

  8. Slightly off topic but of note, I think: The public library system where I work owns three copies of Dr. Coyne’s book. On any given day (including this one), two copies are checked out. Considering the city where I work is in a state with an astronomically high school drop out rate, where descendants of the first (Catholic) Spanish settlers of 400 years ago still work in city or state government, and where the woo quotient is off the charts, the check-out rate of Dr. Coyne’s book is not insignificant.

  9. I have a hard time reading books about topics other than science. I just can’t get through most history books. Unless, of course, it’s about the history of science. The single exception has been “The Professor and the Madman” by Simon Winchester. And I liked it only because I am grammar and word nerd. I need to branch out a bit more I’m afraid.

    1. Some excellent history to try:

      The Guns of August (Tuchman, anything by her, actually)
      Guns, Germs, and Steel (Diamond)
      Beyond the 100th Meridian (Stegner)
      The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Shirer)
      The Outline of History (Wells)
      The Peloponnesian War (Thucydides)
      The Gallic War (Caesar)
      The Right Stuff (Wolfe)
      A World Lit Only by Fire (Manchester)
      Engineering in the Ancient World (Landels)
      Cod (Kurlansky)

  10. Might I also suggest “The Science of Democracy” by Timothy Ferris? While I haven’t finished it, I am thoroughly enjoying it and have had many moments of contemplation as a result of what I have read thus far.

  11. Since the topic is supposed to be about the best non-fiction books of 2010 (AC Grayling’s book “AMong the Dead Cities” wasn’t published in 2010, although I have bought it to read on the basis of the above recommendation and the Kindle sample I’ve read-also for the author), books I’ve read I’d recommend include:

    “The Religion Virus” by Craig James
    “The World in 2010” by Laurence Smith
    “At Home” by Bill Bryson
    “The Disappearing Spoon” by Sam Kean
    “Germs, Genes and Civilization” by David Clark

  12. The correct title is “Bomber County”. That said, the mispelling struck me as what Walker Percy once called “metaphor as mistake”. That is, a mistake that’s aesthetically preferable to the correct version.

    In any event, the blurb for the book you cite reminded me of an excellent book by Paul Fussell on the poet-soldiers of World War 1 entitled “The Great War and Modern Memory”.

  13. Since “Bomber County” mentions Randall Jarrell, I assume it includes this poem.

    The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

    From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
    And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
    Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
    I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
    When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

  14. I think the only non-fiction books I’ve read this year that was published in 2010 were the new Stephen Hawking book and Massimo Pigliucci’s Nonsense On Stilts. Both were good reads.

  15. Ian Frazier’s New Yorker piece on his travels through Russia cum wherever was more than just very good; it was a brilliant, hilarious thriller, with a last line that will stand forever as rock-me shock-me. I literally jumped up when I read it.

  16. Nothing new; but I am finally getting around to reading Pinker’s How the Mind Works, and it’s wonderful. What a great writer! It’s thick and a bit intimidating; but get past that impression: It’s a great read and very interesting and insightful.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Coyne’s book and am about to re-read my copy (again.)

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